It’s that time of the month. Ok, not what you think. It’s that time when businesses are in a slight panic as 2015 gradually winds down. The auditors either come out wielding their ‘red pens’, reviewing and taking inventory or getting advisory analyses of how the business is fairing. Then comes my favourite part, the board meeting with the stakeholders, CEO and senior company executives all looking pristine but unsure of the next curve ahead. It’s decision time, to play or not to play?
“What do you advice, going forward?” read a message on my Black Berry Messenger from a friend. He is stuck in a transatlantic negotiation deal that will make or break his company. In one wave of the hand, I closed a newspaper report I was reading about the Canadian handset maker facing heated battle for survival. The firm is struggling to keep above water in a fiercely competitive ‘smartphone’ market. To survive the deep blue sea, the firm in question needs to put best of negotiating skills to test. This is similar to my friend’s dilemma. Seek alternative options from stakeholders in joint ventures, strategic partnerships or (pause) a sale of the company. The later may be a last resort but at what value? In every transaction whether buying, selling or bidding for contracts negotiation is at play and is likened to the game of Chess. In Chess, you smartly think ahead when moving your pawns and other squares, yet protecting the ‘King’. In this instance, the ‘King’ is your interest in the deal. What is your strategy for negotiating a deal? Consciously or not, we negotiate every day. In the market place, flagging down a taxi, renting a new apartment or buying a developed property. It’s just human, we negotiate.
As part of negotiating or pitching for a deal, the strategic ability to understand the client’s need is imperative. But it starts with your psyche. Your level of exposure to certain leagues of deal is pivotal to how comfortable you are to negotiate and close a new one. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable due to pressure but that is the game. Pressure to give your best and not undercutting the worth of your value in the deal. Clive Rich, a former business negotiator for Sony, Google and Apple once said, “Negotiations are uncomfortable, so you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. Negotiating a deal can be daunting and intimidating. It is not for the faint hearted but for ‘masters of the game’.
The ‘masters’ know the nooks, they see the hooks. And they can smell danger from a mile. Their business senses are at full alert, almost. These individuals become comfortable mastering the art of negotiating and now, it’s become a lifestyle. Successful business people are assertive by nature and have negotiation consciousness. They are not afraid to ask for what they want. Being assertive is part of the consciousness and is clearly different from being aggressive.You are assertive when you take care of your interests while maintaining respect for the interest of others.
Therefore, managing good reputation can boost chances of sealing the next big deal. Believe it or not, your reputation precedes you. Some clients have flung open their doors, and set the wheel of deals in motion just for the sake they hold a company’s reputation in high credibility, and of course you know what happens if that is reversed. Keep your reputation impressive, simple!
With my friend far away in Asia, Japan precisely, I quickly sought advice from senior industry colleagues conversant with corporate finance advisory. “Many companies are reinventing” they tell me. “New strategies are adopted to transform or position businesses subject to unforeseen circumstances. But with well researched assumptions, it gives the picture for disciplined execution”. Always engage with depth research and thorough analyses as every deal isn’t the same. It is vital to have good understanding of the business or company as this will create a good stead in the deal. The success of some negotiation is hinged on how much home work you’ve done. A lack of it may stymie the deal.
Negotiation expert and author, Ed Brodow in an article on successful negotiating says, “you can’t make accurate decisions without understanding the situation on the other side”. This understanding may trigger a trust building process highlighting unique benefits that you can provide. Show the other side how their needs will be met. Seek to understand the other negotiator and show them ways to feel satisfied. In turn, they will be more inclined to help satisfy your own needs. As they say in the Nigerian parlance, “one hand washes the other”. Speaking of trust, you must go beyond understanding technical terms and lingo but also catch the nuances or cultural implications behind what is being said.
Again, I think about my friend. In Japan, it may take several meetings for Japanese partners to become comfortable with ‘gaijins’ [foreigners]. For them, business is about growing a long term relationship and frowning while someone is speaking is interpreted as a sign of disagreement. Remember, Nigerians are very expressive people and my friend is no exception. Infact, he has a peculiar habit of contrasting his facial muscles when he feels a pang of hunger. Imagine if he gets it during the meeting? I pray not because “most Japanese maintain an impassive expression when speaking”, writes Joyce Millet in the book, Cultural Savvy. Over there, business cards are given and received with two hands and a slight bow, it forms part of the business culture in that clime. Knowing the culture of the people will win you their hearts, well, in some cases.
By the way, most ‘handshake’ deals do not necessarily engage in a formal process. These happen at informal settings too but the ambience must be right and comfortable for the parties involved. Transactions to the tune of billions have been struck over premium drinks in relaxed serene environments such as the Lagos boat club, while tugging at ‘chicken suya’ in Polo club and during golf sessions on the luscious ‘Ibom green course to name a few. If you must negotiate a deal over dinner, select a status befitting restaurant. You can never go wrong dining in one of the nine signature restaurants of the Seven Star Burj-Al-Arab, if business negotiation takes you to Dubai. If in the United Kingdom, Rivoli bar or the Palm Court restaurant both in the glamorous Ritz hotel evokes a savior-faire. The Savoy also checks the box as it depends on who you are meeting. Bringing it back home, there is a growing culture of making deals outside of formal settings hence, the boom in hospitality business for premium spots in Lagos and Abuja.
As I patiently waited to commence a meeting, “Explore strategic partnership” read my reply to the message received earlier from my friend. Never go into any negotiation without having varied options. What is the worst case scenario? Though, there is the need to be optimistic. Finally, to ratify a negotiation, you may orchestrate the concluding moves by putting together a well drafted legal agreement that will seal the deal. But if it falls through, you could consider adopting what William Ury, author of ‘Getting past NO: Negotiating Your Way’ describes as “building the golden bridge”. It is a strategy allowing the other side to make a graceful exit.
I sent another BBM to my friend. This time I ask, “What is your game plan?”